Serena Williams reaches quarterfinals at Wimbledon

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WIMBLEDON, England – Even though she is short on matches this year, Serena Williams is still big on grass.

The seven-time Wimbledon champion reached the quarterfinals at the All England Club for the 14th time, beating Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2, 6-2 on Monday.

Williams, who missed about a year of play while she had a baby in 2017 but returned to the tennis tour in 2018, before Wimbledon had not played since the third round of the French Open – skipping the grass-court warm-up tournaments.

“I definitely haven’t had enough (matches),” said Williams, who had been dealing with an injured left knee. “I have more matches this week than literally the past five months. So, yikes.”

Williams reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, then retired from a match at Indian Wells, withdrew from matches in Miami and Rome, and then played at the French Open.

“I know that I can play, and now that I’m feeling better physically I almost feel a relief more than anything,” Williams said. “Like, OK, finally I can play tennis.”

Against Suarez Navarro, Williams won six straight games from 3-2 in the first set and broke for a 5-2 lead in the second. She easily closed it out from there.

Williams, who lost to Angelique Kerber in last year’s Wimbledon final, will next face Alison Riske, an unseeded American who upset top-ranked Ash Barty.

Williams’ last loss was also against American opposition, Sofia Kenin in the third round at Roland Garros.

“Well the last time I faced a fellow American I lost, so I definitely want to do well this time,” Williams said. “And yeah, she’s great on the grass. She took out the No. 1 player in the world who just won a grass-court tournament. I watched that match, so I’ll be ready for her.”

Riske ended Barty’s 15-match winning streak, and her chances of winning a second straight Glam Slam title.

Riske beat the French Open champion 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 and will play in the quarterfinals of a major tournament for the first time.

“I haven’t been starting out fantastic in all my matches, but I knew I had the confidence that if I could manage my service games I was going to get looks on her serve,” said Riske, whose best previous showing was reaching the third round at Wimbledon and the fourth round at the 2013 U.S. Open. “I had to play aggressive. I had to take it to Ash.”

Barty was playing her first tournament as the No. 1-ranked player, and she started off by winning points with her serve against Riske.

In the opening service game, the top-seeded Barty won all four points with aces. She won two more points in her next game with aces, as well. She finished the match with 12 of them.

But Riske took her chances when she got them, breaking Barty four times on four attempts, including to take a 5-3 lead in the deciding set before serving it out.

“I was sticking to how I wanted to play,” Barty said. “Then in the second set, I think my serve let me down. I let Alison get back into the match too many times, having looks at second serves.”

Also, No. 8 Elina Svitolina beat No. 24 Petra Martic 6-4, 6-2, Zhang Shuai defeated Dayana Yastremska 6-4, 1-6, 6-2, and Barbora Strycova came from a set and break down to beat Elise Mertens 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.

Svitolina won six straight games from 4-4 in the first set. Martic called for medical treatment on her left leg after the first game of the second set and her movement appeared to be hampered the rest of the way. She asked for treatment again at 4-1.

In the men’s draw, two-time champion Rafael Nadal beat Joao Sousa 6-2, 6-2, 6-2, and Roberto Bautista Agut defeated Benoit Paire 6-3, 7-5, 6-2.

Later on “Manic Monday,” 15-year-old sensation Coco Gauff, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic were on the schedule as Wimbledon resumes after its traditional day off.

Gauff will try to prolong her magical Grand Slam debut when she meets former No. 1 Simona Halep.

Australian Open director: Novak Djokovic’s hamstring had 3-cm tear

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said Novak Djokovic played at the Grand Slam event with a muscle tear of 3 centimeters – a little more than an inch – in his left hamstring along the way to winning the championship.

“He gets a bad rap, but at the end of the day, I don’t think anyone can question his athleticism. This guy, I did see, he had a 3-centimeter tear in his hammy,” Tiley said in an interview.

“The doctors are … going to tell you the truth,” Tiley said. “I think there was a lot of speculation of whether it was true or not. It’s hard to believe that someone can do what they do with those types of injuries. But he’s remarkable.”

Djokovic won the trophy at Melbourne Park by beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets for a record-extending 10th title there and record-tying 22nd Grand Slam trophy overall. Rafael Nadal is the only other man who has won that many majors.

The triumph also allowed Djokovic to return to No. 1 in the ATP rankings.

The 35-year-old from Serbia hurt his hamstring during a tune-up tournament in Adelaide ahead of the Australian Open. He wore a heavy bandage on his left thigh and was visited by trainers during matches in Week 1 in Melbourne.

He said he took “a lot” of painkiller pills and did various treatments to help the leg.

“Let me put it like this: I don’t say 100%, but 97% of the players, when you get results of the MRI, you go straight to the referee’s office and pull out of the tournament,” Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic, said after the final. “But not him. … His brain is working different.”

Aryna Sabalenka wins 1st Grand Slam title at Australian Open

2023 Australian Open - Day 13
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MELBOURNE, Australia – One point away from her first Grand Slam title, Aryna Sabalenka faulted. And then she faulted again. She grimaced. She yelled and turned her back to the court. She wiggled her shoulders and exhaled.

Clearly, this business of winning the Australian Open was not bound to happen without a bit of a struggle Saturday night. Sabalenka knew deep inside that would be the case. She also knew that all of the effort she put in, to overcome self-doubt and those dreaded double-faults, had to pay off eventually. Just had to.

And so, as she wasted a second match point by flubbing a forehand, and a third by again missing another, Sabalenka did her best to stay calm, something she used to find quite difficult. She hung in there until a fourth chance to close out Elena Rybakina presented itself – and this time, Sabalenka saw a forehand from her similarly powerful foe sail long. That was that. The championship belonged to Sabalenka via a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 comeback victory over Wimbledon winner Rybakina.

“The last game, yeah, of course, I was a little bit nervous. I (kept) telling myself, like, ‘Nobody tells you that it’s going to be easy.’ You just have to work for it, work for it, ’til the last point,” said Sabalenka, a 24-year-old from Belarus who is now 11-0 with two titles in 2023 and will rise to No. 2 in the WTA rankings on Monday.

“I’m super happy that I was able to handle all those emotions,” she said, “and win this one.”

The only set she has dropped all season was the opener on Saturday against Rybakina, who eliminated No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the fourth round.

It was telling that Sabalenka’s remarks during the post-match ceremony were directed at her coach, Anton Dubrov, and her fitness trainer, Jason Stacy – she referred to them as “the craziest team on tour.”

“We’ve been through a lot of, I would say, downs last year,” said Sabalenka, who was appearing in her first major final and had been 0-3 in Slam semifinals until this week. “We worked so hard and you guys deserve this trophy. It’s more about you than it’s about me.”

Well, she had a lot to do with it, of course. Those serves that produced 17 aces, helping erase the sting of seven double-faults. Those hammered groundstrokes and relentlessly aggressive style that produced 51 winners, 20 more than Rybakina’s total. And, despite her go-for-broke shotmaking, somehow Sabalenka limited her unforced error count to 28. One more key statistic: Sabalenka managed to accrue 13 break points, converting three, including the one at 4-3 in the last set that put her ahead for good.

“She played really well today,” said Rybakina, who has lost all four matches she’s played against Sabalenka, all in three sets. “She was strong mentally, physically.”

While the latter has long been a hallmark of her game, even Sabalenka acknowledges that the first has been an issue.

Her most glowing strength was also her most glaring shortfall: her serve. Capable of delivering aces, she also had a well-known problem with double-faulting, leading the tour in that category last year with nearly 400, including matches with more than 20.

After much prodding from her group, she agreed to undergo an overhaul of her mechanics last August. That, along with a commitment to trying to keep her emotions in check – she used to work with a sports psychologist but no longer, saying she relies on herself now – is really paying off.

“She didn’t have great serve last year, but now she was super strong and she served well,” said Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan. “For sure, I respect that. I know how much work it takes.”

With seagulls squawking loudly while flying overhead at Rod Laver Arena, Rybakina and Sabalenka traded serious racket swings for nearly 2 1/2 hours.

The serves were big. So big. Rybakina’s fastest arrived at 121 mph (195 kph), Sabalenka’s at 119 mph (192 kph).

The points were over quickly. So quickly: Seven of the first 13 were aces.

Sabalenka had been broken just six times in 55 service games through the course of these two weeks, but Rybakina did it twice in the opening set.

And never again. Sabalenka resolved to take the initiative even more, and the payoff for her high-risk, high-reward attitude was too much for Rybakina to withstand over the last two sets.

Sabalenka said ahead of time that she expected to feel some jitters. Which makes perfect sense for anyone: This was the most important match of her career.

At the end, when it mattered more than ever, Sabalenka was able to steady herself. After the final point, she dropped to her back on the court and stayed down for a bit, covering her face as her eyes welled with tears.

Quite a difference from a year ago at Melbourne Park, when Sabalenka departed after 15 double-faults in a fourth-round loss.

“I really feel right now that I really needed those tough losses to kind of understand myself a little bit better. It was like a preparation for me,” Sabalenka said at her post-match news conference, her new trophy nearby and a glass of bubbly in her hand. “I actually feel happy that I lost those matches, so right now I can be a different player and just a different Aryna, you know?”